MOVIE MAKEUP MAGIC
Meet the Academy Award–winning makeup artist who transformed Robin Williams into Mrs. Doubtfire and Elizabeth Banks into Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games.
Her name may not be on the tip of your tongue, but you’ve likely seen Ve Neill’s work. She’s created many memorable characters, including several for director Tim Burton (page 12). Neill has been nominated for eight Academy Awards and has taken home three—for Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire and Ed Wood (in which she turned Martin Landau into horror king Bela Lugosi). She’s a judge on Syfy’s Face Off, a popular reality show that pits prosthetic makeup artists against each other, and she teaches a master class on specialeffects makeup in Los Angeles. This year she was the makeup department head on Pee-wee’s Big Holiday and LBJ.
How did you break into movies as a makeup artist?
In the 1970s, when I started, I was doing specialeffect makeup when very few others were. There was a growing need for this skill, so I was able to get my foot in the door. My first big movie was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I was a Trekkie, so I thought that was cool.
How did you learn to apply makeup?
I basically taught myself after learning a few things from a couple of other makeup artists. We sucked up whatever information we were able to find because it was a secretive art back then. I also had examples from the [legendary] work of people like John Chambers, who worked on Planet of the Apes, and Fred Phillips, who did the Star Trek TV series.
What was the moment when you felt you made it?
I don’t know that I ever thought that. We all have that anxiety, the feeling that we’re never going to work again. There’s so much competition. I felt gratitude when I won my first Oscar [for Beetlejuice], but I wondered if people might say, “She’s too expensive now,” or “She’ll be too busy.” Success is a double-edged sword.
Who was the most difficult character to make up?
Probably Mrs. Doubtfire. Covering Robin Williams’ face for that role required 12 or 13 foam latex pieces that all had to overlap. There couldn’t be even one centimeter of his face showing or sweat bubbles would appear. If skin showed, I’d have to keep filling in that one little area, and I did this every day of filming. I did the same makeup on him 53 times.